Monday, August 16, 2010

Take a Walk to Higher Home Values

Homes in "walkable" communities are becoming more and more popular, according to an August 2009 study released by CEOs for Cities. Not only are they more popular, homes located in these urban areas are showing a marked increase in value.

The study, entitled, "Walk the Walk," concludes, "More than just a pleasant amenity, the walkability of cities translates directly into increases in home values." CEOs for Cities defines walkable neighborhoods as "those with a mix of common daily shopping and social destinations within a short distance."

The study maintains houses with "above-average levels of walkability" sell for a premium of about $4,000 to $34,000 over houses with just average levels of walkability in the typical metropolitan areas studied.

The Walk the Walk study turned defining a community's walkability into a fine science and explores the connection between home values and walkability as measured by a Walk Score algorithm and other mathematical and scientific equations and controls.

Bottom line: People like to walk and more people are creating designer lifestyles that allow them to live without a car. They want to walk to stores, schools, parks and to places that provide them with the services they need. And, they are willing to pay.

"The property value premium for walkability seems to be higher in more populous urban areas and those with extensive transit, suggesting that the value gains associated with walkability are greatest when people have real alternatives to living without an automobile," the study said.

The study's measure of walkability focused on the benefits of walking along with better accessibility in general.

The report concludes, "This research makes it clear that walkability is strongly associated with higher housing values in nearly all metropolitan areas. The choice, convenience and variety of walkable neighborhoods are reflected in housing markets and are the product of consumer demand for these attributes."

As the nation watches the housing market with baited breath, it's good to know people are still looking to a bright future and focusing on ways to increase home values through research and without speculation.

CEOs for Cities -- a national cross-sector network of urban leaders from the civic, business, academic and philanthropic sectors - is calling for urban leaders to pay close attention to walkability "as a key measure of urban vitality and as impetus for public policy that will increase overall property values - a key source of individual wealth and of revenues for cash-strapped governments in a tough economy."

Design Your Home to Conserve Water

Design Your Home to Conserve Water
Posted by Sean Heideman
Go Green. Save Green (and Water)!

Water is one of the world's most precious commodities. Whether you're building a new home, have purchased an older home, or are simply trying to cut down on utility bills, there are many measures you can take to conserve water.

1. Drip, drip, drip. You know that annoying little drip in the bathroom sink? Did you know it can send up to 20 gallons of water down the drain every single day? If the drip has become a steady little stream, you can multiply that amount by many times.

If you're building a home, use high quality fixtures that won't leak. Proper installation is critical. Don't overlook even the smallest of leaks. Take a "Do-It-Yourself" course from a local building supply or plumbing store so you know how to identify problem pipes and fixtures and feel confident in repairing them. (Just think of the money you'll save!)

2. That toilet is sure noisy. If you suspect the toilet is leaking, try this tip. Remove the lid from the toilet tank and put three or four drops of food coloring in the water there. Wait 30 minutes (don't flush the toilet). If you see color in the bowl, that is an indication that your toilet is loosing water and replacing it with water from the tank. Find out where the water is going! Replace any parts that need to be replaced and repeat the test.

You can reduce the volume of water required to stop the flow into the toilet tank by inserting a commercial space taker in the tank away. To save even more money, simply use jars or jugs that are weighted down and will sink to the bottom of the tank. Be sure to keep room in the tank for at least three gallons of water.

When building your home, purchase toilets specifically designed to minimize the amount of water they use. Be sure to write down all of the water-saving measures you take in case you decide to sell your home. Conservation efforts will make your home more valuable and easier to sell.

3. Where is it all going? Play "Water Detective." Water leaks can be sneaky. You might be using excessive water and not even know it. Turn off all of the water in your house and yard. Record the numbers on your water meter. Wait two hours. The meter should display the same numbers as when you started. If not? You're losing water to a sneaky leak somewhere. Find the culprit and put an end to the waste.

4. Slow the flow. If you're building a new home, make it a point to use low-flow faucets and shower heads. If you're trying to make an older home more efficient, install flow restrictors. They are inexpensive and easy to install.

Aerators are readily available for faucets. Aerators allow you to adjust the spray volume you need for the task at hand. Aerators may feature a valve to easily reduce the flow of water without turning of the taps or readjusting them. Discuss the concept of water conservation with others living in your home. Carefully review water bills for water usage and plan a reward for significantly reducing the amount of water used each month. Encourage people to take shorter showers, avoid leaving water running needlessly, turn of the water while brushing teeth, etc.

5. The heat is on. Properly adjust your hot water heater and insulate pipes so hot water in the pipes stays hot and is readily available on demand. This will prevent you from having to run the water for an extended period of time to get water from the heater to the faucet.

6. Cool it down. Keep fresh, cold water in the refrigerator. That way, there will be no need to run water for an extended period of time to get it good and cold.

7. Fill it up. Purchase conservation conscious appliances. Even if you don't purchase new appliances, you can save water by making sure you only start appliances with a full load. Use the proper settings for the load you are washing. For example, if you're washing a regular load of dishes, don't use the "Pots and Pans" cycle of your dishwasher.

Set your clothes washer to a cycle that requires the fewest rinses.

8. Recycle. Garbage disposals require the use of running water to rinse food waste down the drain. You can recycle and save water by starting a compost pile. Instead of washing food waste down the drain, turn it into a valuable resource for your garden.

Go Green - Build an Environmentally Friendly Home, Business

The concept of building an environmentally friendly home or business is more than just a passing political fad. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, buildings have a tremendous impact on energy consumption and the natural environment.

Following are statistics reported by the EPA online:

In the United States, buildings account for:
39 percent of total energy use
12 percent of the total water consumption
68 percent of total electricity consumption
38 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions

Whether you are building a new home, an office, or a large or small business, the best approach to environmental responsibility is to integrate conservative building strategies into your plans from the point of conception. Energy saving strategies can also be applied to remodeling plans and reconstruction.

In addition to the following benefits taken directly from the EPA Green Buildings website at, the value of your home or business will be greater for a variety of reasons including an appeal of social environmental responsibility to potential buyers and many buyers' interest in long-term savings through energy efficiency, maintenance and overall operational costs. Green buildings feature many major selling points that could help you close a sale or lease agreement over buildings that are not designed with the environment in mind.

Environmental benefits

Enhance and protect biodiversity and ecosystems
Improve air and water quality
Reduce waste streams
Conserve and restore natural resources
Economic benefits

Reduce operating costs
Create, expand, and shape markets for green product and services
Improve occupant productivity
Optimize life-cycle economic performance
Social benefits

Enhance occupant comfort and health
Heighten aesthetic qualities
Minimize strain on local infrastructure
Improve overall quality of life
Any building can be a green building. Homes, schools, commercial buildings, healthcare facilities and more are now being constructed with a vested interest in conserving energy and water. Green buildings are designed to reduce waste and toxins with building materials and specifications that also help improve indoor air quality and sustain smart growth in neighborhoods, on Main Street and in industrial developments.

Want more good news? There are many local, state and national programs that reward builders for incorporating responsible green building components in construction and reconstruction projects.

If you would like more ideas on how you can emphasize the environmentally friendly aspects of your building for sale, contact us today. If you're looking for a green building to buy, we can help you there too. Green buildings are the wave of the future and there's no time like the present to get started preserving our environment and our future.

Americans on the Move: Relocation Information is at Your Fingertips

Americans are on the move. Recent housing market fluctuations and economic conditions have prompted many Americans to relocate. Some relocate to find employment or meet job requirements. Others are (sadly) losing homes to foreclosure and looking for a new start. Some are finding affordable housing as a result of the slow housing market in new locations. Believe it or not, there are some who simply seek new and better surroundings.

People choose different locations for different reasons at different stages of their lives.

Whether you're moving to a new community by chance or by choice, the transition can require a long period of stressful adjustment. There are ways to minimize the stress and prepare you and your family for life in a new neighborhood.

Tap Into Technology

If you have decided to move to a specific location (such as in the case of a job transfer), it's a good idea to become familiar with your new surroundings before you make any decisions about housing or local location.

The Internet is a wonderful, wonderful tool that can take you places without ever having to leave your home. Take full advantage of the tools the Internet offers. Start by contacting a real estate agent who can act as a "virtual guide" and, later, a location guide.

A real estate agent can be your best friend in this situation. Real estate agents are generally very well connected and can provide you with quality community information in an instant. Peruse your agent's website for local information and links that will help you evaluate:

Communities and neighborhoods
Recreational opportunities
Climate and geography
Commerce and local economy
Social settings
Housing markets
Local demographics
And more!
Your real estate agent can provide you with external local website links that will help you provide in-depth information.

Nearly every incorporated city and some unincorporated communities feature websites with helpful information. Simply access your favorite search engine and type in the name of the city. You may get more accurate results by using quotation marks around the name of the city (especially if the city name includes more than one word), for example, "Salt Lake City, Utah" or "Salt Lake City, UT". Be sure to use the name of the state in your search. Look for official websites with a ".gov" or ".org" extension. You can also type in questions such as, "In what county is Salt Lake City located?"

Local chambers of commerce are almost always willing to send relocation packets with selected information including visitor guides and local resources. Often their websites feature links that allow you to request a relocation packet online. Some charge a minimal fee.

If you are still deciding where you want to live, there are many public and private enterprise websites that compare communities and offer demographic information on multiple communities.

U.S. Census Bureau -

The U.S. Census Bureau is a great source of information. Be forewarned that smaller communities may only feature information based on the most recent complete census conducted in 2000. There are many different data sets available through the U.S. Census Bureau including:

The Decennial Census taken every 10 years to collect information about the people and housing of the United States.

American Community Survey - an ongoing survey that provides data about communities every year.
Puerto Rico Community Survey - the equivalent of the American Community Survey for Puerto Rico
Population Estimates Program - population numbers between censuses
Economic Census - profiles the U.S. economy every 5 years
Annual Economic Surveys - data from the Annual Survey of Manufactures, County Business Patterns and Nonemployer Statistics
You will also find:

American Indian and Alaska Native data and links
FastFacts for Congress - Demographic and economic data for Congressional Districts
Kids' Corner - Learn fun facts about your state and take a quiz (Money Magazine) -

Each year Money Magazine conducts a study of America's small towns and compares them to other small towns throughout the country. The information provided by this source is more subjective than hard statistics provided by the U.S. government, but its also more user-friendly and in some cases more in-depth. The information is somewhat limited depending on the towns studied in a given year. Money Magazine Places a high value on strong economy, education, low crime, affordable housing, etc.

Wikipedia -

Wikipedia is a multilingual, Web-based, free-content encyclopedia. You will find information on many states, counties, cities and towns, and counties on Wikipedia. Remember Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers from all over the world. Anyone with access to the internet can make changes to its articles. On this site you will find information about demographic (usually based on the most recent decennial census), history, geography, climate and more.

Sperling's Best Places -

Sperling's Best Places is another good private site that compares community features and gives readers an inside look at the best features of many communities. Here you'll find information about the cost of living, crime, education, the economy, population, climate and more.

Where to Retire --

If you're ready to retire and are looking for a new location, Where to Retire can help you analyze different areas armed with information. Where to Retire strives to be America's foremost authority on retirement relocation.

Relocating to a new area is a monumental event! Choose the right location and know the location before you actually make your move.

Building a New Home? Choose Colors You Can Live With!

You're building a new home. That's great! Once you've selected the location, hired a builder and decided on a floor plan, you'll begin working on the interior design of your home. The colors you choose to adorn your walls will play a major role in the overall look and feel of your home.

Colors can have an amazing effect on our physical and mental well-being. In most cases the impact is subconscious. Whether you're planning your new home or painting a home that's new to you, colors are important.

I should note, if you're preparing a home to sell, stick with very plain, neutral colors and let homebuyers choose their own favorite accents. You never know when a color may evoke the wrong emotion in a home shopper.

Before you decide on paint colors, take these factors into consideration:

emotional appeal for which you are striving in each room, sometimes called the room's "mood."
lighting styles, sources and intensity
carpeting color and texture
What Mood are You In?

Different colors have different effects on individual, but some pretty good generalizations can be made about many. The mood can be intensified or diluted with various shades.

Looking for tranquility? Try blue, a color that can actually slow your pulse rate and lower your body temperature. Some claim blue can even reduce your appetite.

Other words associated with the color blue are:

And . . . sorry, depression
Be careful how you use blue. You'll want to stay on the lighter side of things to avoid unintentionally bringing people down.

Ready to kick in some high energy? Look to red. Can't imagine painting a wall red? Reconsider.

Red evokes a sense of high energy in some and warmth in others. Used correctly, red can create feelings of:

Overdone, red can also evoke a sense of:

Did you know the Chinese consider red to represent luck? This probably isn't the best color for a hyper-active child's room. Painting a work-out room? Pump it up with red.

Do you love nature and the environment? Green is a great color to put you at ease with its calm, cool appeal.

Green can evoke feelings of:

I don't want to lead you astray, so I should add that green has a tendency to inspire jealousy and envy too.

Simplicity and harmony are best represented by white. Never discount the power of white when choosing colors for your home. White is clean, peaceful and innocent.

White can be boring if its overused and improperly complemented with home décor - so don't go crazy with white, but use it where you are looking for a sense of purity such as in a nursery or cleanliness in a laundry room.

You Choose the Colors and Make Your Choices Consciously

There are so many, many colors from which to choose. Do a little of your own research and find out what a color can do for you. If you consciously choose colors with a goal in mind, you're more likely to stir in yourself and your family members the emotions and feelings you want to have in your home. Consider researching different colors' meanings as they apply to your own religion and beliefs.

Stage Your Home to Sell

With a nationwide clearance sale on homes, many people are out there looking for a great deal on residential property. If you’re looking to sell your home, it’s more important than ever that you take steps to make sure your house, town home or condominium outshines all of the others!

We are here to help you identify ways to spruce up your home’s appeal. We know what features interest local area buyers and can give you the inside track on ways to stage your home to sell.

If you’re ready to put your home on the market, don’t spend another minute worrying about what you should or should not do to make it appealing to buyers. Contact us today and we’ll get you started.

Stage your home to sell:

1. Depersonalize your home. This is the hardest part for many sellers. People love to decorate their homes and feel warm and comfortable in their own surroundings. The idea here is to make buyers feel comfortable in imagining their own personal favorites on the walls and open spaces in the home you want to sell. When you stage your home to sell, remove personal photos from the walls.

2. De-junk your home. Clear all visible clutter to make your home look more spacious when you stage your home to sell. Remove all but a few items from visible shelves. If you can’t part with important items that make your house seem cluttered, box them up and store them for placement in your new home! This is an important step to take when you stage your home to sell. Think about renting a storage unit if you have to in order to make your home seem cleaner and brighter.

3. Organize, organize, organize. Sometimes when people tour a potential new home they look inside cupboards and closets. When you stage your home to sell, make it a point to organize storage areas to make a great impression on potential buyers.

4. Eliminate unnecessary furniture. Consider removing a few pieces of furniture when you stage your home to sell. Place them in a storage unit or store it with a friend or family member while you are in the process of showing your home.

5. Fix it! When it’s time to stage your home to sell, it’s time to do some handy work. Small cracks in paint, leaking faucets, broken screen doors, can all have an unconscious (and conscious) negative impact on a potential buyer.

6. Paint. A fresh coat of paint can do wonders for the appeal of your home. When you stage your home to sell, use neutral colors and disregard your own tastes so buyers can imagine their favorite colors in the home.

7. Clean. Scrub those windows, have carpets professionally cleaned, mop the floors and don’t forget the baseboards. When you stage your home to sell, make sure it smells and feels clean.

8. Create curb appeal. The yard is your first chance at making a good impression. Don’t forget the yard when you stage your home to sell. Clean up debris, mow and water lawns, sweep and wash walks and trim bushes. Repair and paint the exterior of your home if necessary.

9. Do a walk through. When you stage your home to sell, do a walk-through. Pretend you’re seeing it for the very first time. Try to see it from an objective perspective. Identify problem areas and fix them or clean them up.

10. Make yourself available to show your home. Once you stage your home to sell, work closely with your realtor to offer the most convenient access possible. Buyers who are interested in your home may want to see it immediately. Make arrangements for someone to show your home when you’re not available.

For more information on buying and selling real estate, or for more tips on how to stage your home to sell, contact us today, we have the experience you need to stage your home to sell.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Make Dollars Out of Scents

Spruce up the Aroma of Your Home to Sell

When homebuyers walk into a home for sale all five senses are actively scanning the environment. The sense of smell can send a strong message to the brain while the brain is busy formulating a first impression.

Regardless of your home’s appearance, an unpleasant odor can turn buyers away. At the same time, pleasant aromas can invoke feelings of comfort, relaxation, happiness and peace.

Carefully selected scents can actually help you get more dollars out of your home when combined with other staging methods. We have experience in creating just the right setting to present your home for sale. Feel free to contact us for a no obligation consultation and tips to make your property even more desirable.

1. Dirt Stinks.

Let’s face it, no matter what kind of candle, spray or air freshener you use the fine scents will not cover up the smell of an unclean environment. The first smell to create is a clean smell. Don’t use overpowering industrial cleaners that leave strong scents behind. Even those scents are sometimes undesirable.

Wash walls, baseboards, and floors
Leave no dirty dishes in the sink or on counters
Clean the garbage disposal regularly
Keep trash cans empty
Clean toilets regularly
Eliminate all signs of mildew and mold
Dust often
Avoid smoking indoors
Never leave dirty diapers in the house
Keep laundry clean and put away
Keep pets outside or keep litter box clean and fresh for indoor cats

2. People are Sensitive to Smells

Once your house is smelling clean and fresh, be very careful about the scents and methods of distributing those scents. Many people have allergies to spray air fresheners. Other people simply feel overpowered by the scent of a strong burning candle. Still others may associate certain smells with negative memories or experiences in their lives. Strong, overpowering smells may be offensive and may make buyers suspicious you are trying to cover up a bad smell.

3. Natural, Subtle Scents are Best

Play it safe by creating an atmosphere of natural scents and smells.

Place fresh, fragrant flowers in strategic locations throughout the home for a subtle, natural scent. Flowers from your own garden are wonderful! If not available, fresh flowers from the grocer will do just fine.

Consider whipping up a batch of fresh chocolate chip cookies as your guests arrive to create a homey feeling. Maybe you could choose the day of their visit to put a nice stew in the crock pot.

Creating just the right ambiance in your home when staging it to sell could net thousands more in the final sales price. Remember, don’t over do it. Natural is best.

Are the Feds Really Making Homes Affordable?

After America’s housing market slumped to staggering lows in the fourth quarter of 2008, the Obama Administration made addressing key problems at the core of the country’s financial crisis a top priority.
Before the first quarter of 2009 was over, the Administration introduced a Financial Stability Plan to sure up our economy. The plan included the critical “Making Home Affordable“ program to stabilize the housing market. The plan targets 7 to 9 million Americans who could benefit from a reduction in their monthly mortgage payments.
A government consumer website at gives the low-down on this recovery effort. I wanted to make you aware of the highlights. As a professional sales associate, I want to make sure you are up to date and in tune with the government’s efforts to assist many of you who could undoubtedly benefit from this program. If, after reading this, you are unsure of your status please feel free to contact me for a no-obligation consultation about how this program may help you. We will explain how your lender or a qualified program consultant can get you on the right track to reducing your mortgage payments.

Millions of home loans are guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. This program gives 4 to 5 million homeowners with guaranteed loans the chance to refinance in order to bring house payments down to a manageable amount.
According to the program’s website, “The Home Affordable Modification Program commits $75 billion to keep up to 3 to 4 million Americans in their homes by preventing avoidable foreclosures.” Bottom line, not everyone will qualify and those who wait too late could miss the boat.
Even if you are not behind on your house payments this program could work for you. People who have not been able to take advantage of lower interest rates by refinancing their homes with mortgages guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac may be able to reduce payments based on a lower interest rate alone.
Do You Qualify?

There’s only one way to find out if you qualify and that is to research. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get all of the details upfront if you’re in need of some assistance.

At, there are handy self-assessment tools and calculators that can help determine whether or not the Obama Administration’s program will help. On this website you can:

conduct a self-assessment to see if you qualify
connect with free counseling resources
locate homeowner events in your community
find a checklist of documents and materials to have ready when you decide to apply for assistance through the program

A Word of Caution

Please, don’t get caught up on Making Home Affordable scams. The program warns there are people out there waiting to take advantage of struggling homeowners looking for a way out. “There is never a fee to get assistance or information about Making Home Affordable from your lender or a HUD-approved housing counselor,” according to Never, but never submit mortgage payments to anyone but your mortgage company without approval in writing from your lender.

If you feel threatened by a pending foreclosure or are struggling to make your house payments, you might be frightened and are surely overwrought with concern. Contact us for help. You don’t have to do this alone. This is just one option for people who are struggling to make house payments. If you don’t qualify, we may be able to assist you with a short sale to help protect you from foreclosure.

Sell Your Home using Home Staging

Many buyers make a decision about a home within 15 seconds of walking through the front door. To make a great first impression, many homeowners are turning to Home Staging. Home Staging is the process of setting the scene throughout your home to create immediate buyer interest.

Benefits of Home Staging

Donna Dazzo, a New York-based home stager, pointed out that staging moves up sell dates and adds more money to sellers' pockets. She noted a recent study performed by The Real Estate Staging Association, which showed that after they'd been on the market for quite some time, occupied homes that were staged sold on average within six days, while unoccupied homes sold within 28 days after staging. "Home staging results in a higher price, all other things being equal," she said, adding that the money that clients invest in staging usually results in a 350-percent return on investment in terms of getting a number closer to their sale price. "An investment in staging will always be less than the first price reduction," she said.

Clean Up and Remove All Clutter

Potential buyers don't want to see how you live. They want to picture themselves living in your home. When cleaning for home staging, you should plan to clean your home better than you ever have before. Clean every surface including windows (inside and out) and window sills, ledges, door knobs, ceiling fans, shelves, mini blinds, ceiling and floor corners, and baseboards. Remove all tile grout with bleach. Caulk areas around sinks and bathtubs. If the job seems overwhelming, consider hiring a maid service or cleaning crew. The benefits of home staging will be worth the cost.

Get your carpets professionally cleaned. If you have pets, this is absolutely necessary. Even if you don't, professionally cleaned carpets are far more appealing than worn out, stained ones.

When considering purchasing your home, people will open your cupboards and closets. Make sure they're organized neatly. Every storage area in your home should be neat, clean, organized, and clutter-free.

To Decorate or Not to Decorate

You need to show your home at its best potential to buyers. Lori Matzke, Professional Home Stager and Founder of "Center Stage Home" states, "Keep in mind that what you are selling is the house, not its contents. . . If you remove throw or area rugs, eliminate clutter and collections, and cut down on furniture and accessories, the room will appear to be more airy and spacious. . . It's all about flow."

Make your home look as spacious as possible. Rearrange furniture so it is conducive to a smooth traffic flow. Store away any excess furniture and knick knacks. Take down your wedding photos, religious items, school pictures, and collection of refrigerator art.

Consider replacing the towels in your bathrooms and kitchen with a couple of fresh new ones. Remove all personal items from countertops, and place a plant on the bathroom vanity. Remove all dirty laundry from sight. Add a centerpiece to your dining room table if you don't already have one. Take a close look at your houseplants. If they are dying or unsightly, remove them or replace them. Place plants in clean, attractive containers. Add a fresh, non-offensive fragrance to your home using potpourri, scented oils, or scented wax (as candle smoke can stain walls) such as cinnamon or vanilla. Many agents are even advising homeowners to bake a fresh batch of cookies if they know they will be showing their home. A fresh coat of paint in a neutral color will also go a long way.

Your front porch is the first thing people see. If you have any dead or tattered planters, replace them with fresh ones. Keep all planters watered and trimmed. Keep your porch clean and inviting. Replace your front door handle if necessary, and put a stylish wreath on the door.

Ms. Dazzo states, "Even though people's clutter is a turn-off to potential buyers, the opposite problem - a vacant home - is one that really keeps houses on the market longer. If there is nothing left in the house, buyers sense desperation and begin trying to whittle down prices, and as the listing gets more stale, the house becomes even harder to sell. . . If it doesn't have furniture, people notice cracks in the walls, scuffs in the floor."

Home Staging can be a project you can do yourself, but if you want to invest in a professional Home Stager, the benefits are often worth the cost.

6 Common Home Buyer Mistakes to Avoid

You've determined that you're ready to buy a home. You've saved enough for a down payment, you've been searching for properties, and you're ready to make your dream a reality. Buying a home is an exciting process; however, if you're not careful, it can turn into a nightmare. Here are 6 common home buyer mistakes to avoid.

1. Not Budgeting Properly

It's easy to overestimate what you can afford. Although owning a home may be a better investment than renting, it's not necessarily going to be cheaper. Take a good look at your income and expenses for a few months before determining what you can comfortably afford. Make a budget sheet using Microsoft Excel or any other budgeting software. List all your income as well as every single expense, including food, gifts, and even haircuts. Keep in mind any emergency expenses as well.

When budgeting, don't forget about hidden costs including closing costs, homeowner's insurance, property taxes, HOA fees, and décor and furniture to fill your new home.

2. Neglecting your Credit Report Prior to Getting Approved

Your credit score can be either helpful or detrimental to your loan process. Getting a full credit report from all three credit reporting agencies - Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion - before applying for your home loan will not only let you know how credit-worthy you are, it can lead you to possible reporting errors. One study found that as many as 25 percent of credit reports have damaging errors.

3. Not Getting Pre-approved for a Home Loan before Searching

Most sellers prefer bids from prospective buyers who are already pre-approved for a home loan. Being pre-qualified and pre-approved are different. Pre-qualification is usually the unofficial process of informing a lender of your credit status, income, and debt. The lender can usually give you a ballpark figure of what type of loan they may offer. Pre-qualification is based on your word alone and doesn't hold much weight with sellers.

Pre-approval is the verification of the information you provided to the lender. This process will give you a better idea of how much the bank will loan you. Getting pre-approved can get you a step ahead other potential bidders that have no pre-approval.

4. Skipping the Home Inspection

You love that old fixer-upper, but skipping the home inspection can cost you as much in repairs as the cost of the home itself. The home inspection should include the overall foundation and structural features of the house, the roof, walls, plumbing, the presence of mold, pest infestations, heating, air conditioning, appliances, and the electrical system. Also, ensure that your inspector is certified with the American Society of Home Inspectors.

5. Picking the wrong neighborhood

You've found a home you love, but do you know what happens in the neighborhood after dark? Do you know the crime rate? What is the traffic like during rush hour? How is the school district?

Knock on your potential neighbors' doors, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Call the school principal, or talk to parents who are waiting to pick up their kids after school. Read the local newspaper to learn more about the community. There are many real estate blogs and community websites on the internet so before buying the home, check out the neighborhood.

6. Using a Bad Real Estate Agent or No Agent

You want a real estate agent who understands your needs and limitations and will work for you and look out for your interests. Get references from friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. Consider interviewing a few different agents to find out about their activity and experience in your area.

It's definitely possible to buy a home without the help of a professional real estate agent, but realtors have access to all the homes on the market through the multiple listing service (MLS). Unless you are in the real estate business yourself, you'll likely not have any access to the MLS in your area. Real estate agents spend their time sifting through listings, making appointments to show homes, meeting with inspectors, and helping you create a comparative market analysis to determine proper pricing.

The real estate agent you choose could be the greatest asset or biggest obstacle to finding your dream home.